(By Geno Ludwig/Chewelah Independent)
Mike McMillin new head coach of Cougar boys basketball team…
If enthusiasm is a preferred ingredient for a high school head basketball coach, Chewelah is going to get a double-dose of it when Mike McMillin takes the helm of the Cougar hoops program this winter.
“I love these boys,” McMillin said. “They are all great kids. I have worked with them now for four years, and they are a great group of guys, and I believe they are hungry to win.”
Some Cougar fans might be thinking: ‘What’s a NAPA car parts store owner doing coaching a high school basketball team?”
“I’m a late bloomer,” McMillin laughed. “I never thought I’d have the patience for this. However, after five years of helping with the program, I came to the realization that I really like coaching.”
Chewelah will not only be the smallest school in the league again this year, but the Cougars will undoubtedly have the shortest basketball team. Nonetheless, McMillin is confident that with Coach Tyler Goldman’s focus on defense last year and some tweaks made to the offense this summer, the Cougars can be much more competitive this winter.
“Last year, I got the view from the bench as an assistant to Tyler,’ explained McMillin. “We had several conversations before, during, and after practice. We hit it off pretty good.
“Last year, we taught the same defensive skills and used the same drills they use at Eastern Washington University and at Gonzaga. It’s all basic basketball. They are the same skills and the same drills that college All-Americans practice every day. Tyler knew, because he’d been there.”
The only difference was that Goldman and McMillin were not teaching six-foot- seven-inch and above college players. Last year, Chewelah had only one player over six-foot- two, and that made a big difference on the floor against taller teams.
“However,” inserted McMillin, “we are going to be the most athletic team in the league. We will have lots of speed, and we will have to apply that to the basketball court if we are going to be successful. We will play to our strengths and do our best to offset our weaknesses.”
Gold installed the defensive package last year. McMillin will add the offense this coming season.
“We really had trouble shooting the ball last year,” McMillin said. “We had a 10-man rotation because of all the interchangeable parts. With the frequent substituting, our good shooters never got to get into their rhythm. That will change this year.
“We will have to find our alpha male shooter or our two alpha males. There will be no more alpha by committee. We are going to identify our best shooters and get them the ball as often as we can.
They will be the ones who know the ball will drop through the hoop every time they shoot it.
McMillin’s offensive philosophy is simple: If you have a lane to the basket, take it. If you have an open shot, shoot it. If you have neither, find the teammate who does.
“An important part of our offense will be player movement without the ball,’ he stressed. “Everyone on our team will be finding an open space in the opposing defense from where they can take an open shot. Like last year, I expect everyone to play zone defense against us with their taller players. If we can’t shoot over the top of it, we will have to make the defense move and find the open spaces that movement creates.”
“We shot the ball a lot this summer with the goal that every player would develop confidence in his shooting ability.”
McMillin met with the team twice a week over the summer, trying to fit in time between summer baseball and sports camps. He also coached the team through three summer tournaments.
“We got a head start on our offense over the summer,” McMillin said. “We ran it really well at Medical Lake. We beat Cheney and Medical Lake with it.
“We only had a few practices prior to going to Medical Lake, but, with the exception of one game, we played pretty good.”
This winter, the Cougars will be a senior-dominated team with six returning varsity players. There are a couple of juniors, a couple of sophomores, and a couple of freshmen who have also made an impression on McMillin this summer. Time will tell which ones will wear varsity uniforms.